Edited Release — Brian Lynch’s handsome chestnut Classic Causeway earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 84 for his Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) victory Saturday, four weeks after receiving an 88 in winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and will be pointed to the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland Race Course next month.
His time of 1:44.90 for the 1 1/16 miles on a track rated as good after a morning drenching was more than a second slower than that of 4-year-old colt Scalding, who won the Michelob Ultra Challenger (G3) three races earlier.
Analysts and handicappers will assign varying degrees of importance to that information as Classic Causeway continues his march on the road to Louisville for the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 7 at Churchill Downs. It is worth noting that while Classic Causeway was in complete control throughout, Scalding was pushed to his utmost by Cody’s Wish, who finished a neck back.
The purpose here is not to denigrate the performance of Classic Causeway, the first horse since Destin in 2016 to win both Tampa Bay Downs showcase races for Triple Crown candidates, but to point out how opinions about top 3-year-olds proliferate in the spring like dandelions. As his trainer, Brian Lynch, pointed out, Classic Causeway’s time and speed numbers were likely impacted by other factors.
“There was a very strong headwind going up the backstretch, and he was geared down late (by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., with the victory assured),” Lynch said Sunday morning. “I thought his Beyer might have been a little higher, but he did it so nicely it’s not something I’m worried about.
“I really look forward to sitting down tonight and having a real good look at the replay. But visually, to my eyes, he ran a 110 Beyer.”
Classic Causeway earned 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for the triumph, moving him into first place with 66 points in the competition to help determine the field of 20 for the Run for the Roses.
The objective now is to have the son of Giant’s Causeway out of the Thunder Gulch mare Private World prepared to run his career-best race in eight weeks. Toward that end, Lynch says his final prep race will likely take place April 9 in the Blue Grass at a 1 1/8 miles.
It’s an exciting time for Lynch and the colt’s breeders and owners, Patrick O’Keefe of Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper, one in which they believe their hand is as strong as anyone else’s.
“This is a place I’ve never been and I’m going to enjoy it,” Lynch said. “I’m glad (Classic Causeway) is on my team and we’re not playing against him.”
Certainly, Classic Causeway had things his own way in both Tampa Bay Downs stakes (mostly due to excellent breaks from the gate), and his connections would love to see that continue. There is also a good chance that sometime soon, a rival if going to be just as keen about grabbing the lead when the gate opens, giving Classic Causeway another chance to prove himself as a horse that can rate off the pace and still come running late.
Here is what Lynch really likes.
“One of the difficult things with horses is to keep that ‘want-to’ in them, when you’re not forcing them as much to do it. He seems to have plenty of ‘want-to,’ ” Lynch said. “This colt is very good at what he does, and he looks so comfortable doing it. At every stage of the race, he looked like a winner.”
Ortiz, who has enjoyed a tremendous career over the last four weeks at Tampa Bay Downs, winning nine times from 18 mounts, including six stakes, three of them graded, also deserved plenty of credit for both of Classic Causeway’s victories.
There is no truth to the rumor Lynch plans to keep the rider under lock and key until Classic Causeway’s next start.
“He’s got a great set of hands and horses settle for him and respond when he calls for them,” Lynch said. “He is a very gifted, talented young man.”
Michael Maker, the trainer of Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Grantham, was proud of the colt’s effort, worth 20 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points. “He ran well, no doubt about it,” said Maker, who added that Grantham’s next start will likely come in the Blue Grass or the Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes (G3) on the turf on April 8 at the Lexington track.
Shipsational ran well to finish third, following his second-place effort in the Sam F. Davis, and picked up 10 points. Trainer Edward Barker said the plan is to keep the New York-bred on the Kentucky Derby trail, with his next start in either the $1-million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) on April 2 at Gulfstream Park or the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) on April 9 at Aqueduct. With 14 points currently, it is highly probable Shipsational needs another top-three finish to be an automatic Kentucky Derby qualifier.
“Our horse ran a tremendous race – we just lost too much ground on the turns,” Barker said. “(Classic Causeway) is a very good horse, but he had it all his own way and we only got beat (2 ½ lengths). We’ll meet him again, I think.”